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Tyler County’s made-over courthouse in Woodville, a favorite Swift subject. Grand Guignol half-buried in the toxic red dirt of Beaumont. In college, I’d devoured the books of those devilishly Gothic writers of the SouthCarson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, the early works of Truman Capote, and even John Kennedy Toole. Why, I wondered, was there no Gothic tradition in Texas literature? After all, there’s no place more Gothic than East Texas. There’s no place more violent and decorous, or endowed with a more appalling rhetorical flair. In case you’re a person who never knew the mixed blessing of being born to the “Land of the Permanent Wave,” to use Bud Shrake’s splendid handle for the region, here’s a small story illustrative of the East Texas sensibility: For many years, the grandparents of a good friend of mine owned and operated a pawn shop in Beaumont. This pawn shoplike countless others across the nationwas, from time to time, robbed by vicious, gun-wielding individuals. During one of these robberies, a pistol-packing thug placed the barrel of his revolver directly to the silver, curled-and-set temple of my dear friend’s grandmother. Without panic or hesitation, this steely grandma said to the sniveling thug, “Darlin’, if you blow out my brains, you’ll just ruin my hair.” The thief quickly exited with his loot, doubtless duly impressed. That’s East Texas for you, and that’s also Edward Swift, the missing Gothic link in Texas literature, whose characters are never far from ammo or Aquanet. Take, for example, Miss Jessie Gatewood of Splendora, the New Orleans drag queen who returns to his tiny Texas hometown to reap hilarious revenge on the homophobes who did him wrong; or Miss Corinda Cassy in Principia Martindale, the evangelizing leader of Cowgirls for Christ; or Eugenia Fane McAlister, the maniacal, piano-playing matriarch of Mother of Pearl. Throughout his oeuvre, Swift reveals himself as East Texas Gothic to the tips of his fingers. Or rather, to the tip of his grandfather’s fingerthe formaldehyde-preserved centerpiece of his marvelous memoir-with-recipes, My Grandfather’s Finger, Swift’s wild, whirling story about coming of age in and around woeful Woodville, Texas. On a misguided and ill-advised literary pilgrimage, my best friend Jessica and I recently paid a visit to Woodville. My friends, there is not much to Woodville. In fact, if you’re ever in search of a concrete example of the power of imagination to overcome bleak circumstance, I’d suggest reading Ed Swift and then driving to Woodville. Born in 1943, Swift spent his earliest childhood in the Big Thicket idyll of Camp Ruby, a small, faltering logging community tucked into the Great Piney Woodsfrom which his family would be flung by the Texas Forest Service into the mortal coil of nearby Woodville when Swift was 8 years old. Having visited the town, I find it difficult to believe anyone has JULY 11, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21